The last chapter for today. This fic will be posted in my journal when complete. Hope you enjoy!
Notes: Dialogue from Fool For Love was shamelessly stolen and twisted in this chapter.
Disclaimer: Not mine, all Joss.
She hated research, she really did. But it was her life on the line – more so than ever – and she and Giles had to go it alone, Watcher and Slayer digging through the Watcher’s diaries, while the rest of the gang was out on patrol.
Because she was scared. Because Giles was scared. And neither of them wanted the others to see just how much.
If it had been a vampire with more experience, and a whole bunch more years on him, Buffy could have understood it. A vampire like Spike, all that age and skill, she would have expected it. But this one – he was just a little nothing throwaway vamp, lost in a decade of the not-too-distant past with no real fighting skills… who had somehow managed to impale her with her own stake.
How did this happen? I mean… it’s the closest I’ve been to dying since… well, since I actually died.
She sat up a little straighter in her seat, wincing as her wound throbbed viciously. Is this what happened to the other Slayers? she wondered. Did they get so confident in their ability that they forgot… or maybe dismissed the danger? Is that what I’ve been doing?
Or maybe the other Slayers didn’t live on a Hellmouth. Or didn’t have a frighteningly powerful demon woman after their little sister, who really wasn’t her little sister, but a mystical Key of some kind. Oh, and I’m sure the other slayers didn’t have a mom scaring them silly with debilitating headaches, or boyfriends with insecurity issues…
Or face it, Buffy… maybe you just screwed up.
She slammed shut the diary she’d been half-reading, raising a puff of dust. The sound brought Giles’ head up from the journal he’d been studying.
“There’s nothing,” she said, tossing the book back onto the stack next to her in frustration, but that still left her with two in her lap. She took a moment to roll her shoulders and lean away from the book-covered counter. “Nothing in any of these books is useful right now.”
Giles frowned at her, then down at the book he held.
“Where is the Slayer’s final battle? Out of all her fights, what made that one special?” She flipped through the pages of her next book, then looked up at Giles pleadingly. “If I can understand what they did, maybe I can understand what I did wrong…”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Giles interrupted softly, still not looking at her.
“… and keep it from happening again.”
Moving like a man much older than his years, Giles set his book on the counter and settled into the chair on the opposite side. He was facing her, but even so, Buffy had the impression that he was focused on something beyond her shoulder, not on her. “I think… the-the problem with the account of the Slayer’s final battle is that… it is the final one, and she’s kind of… I mean, she’s very much… she’s…”
Taking pity on him, and feeling a burst of affection at the way he was trying not to hurt her feelings, she said gently, “It’s all right to say the ‘d’ word, Giles.”
“Dead,” he managed, and at last met her eyes. “And hence, not very forthcoming.” He looked at the sea of books between them, and then down at the one he’d been reading.
“So… what about the Watchers? I mean, why didn’t they keep fuller accounts? Wouldn’t they have recorded it?”
Still studying the cover of his book, Giles went on quietly, “I would imagine, if they were anything like me, they would find it all too…”
Rolling her eyes, Buffy jumped in with the proper British term. “Unseemly?”
Or so she thought, until Giles just looked at her, his eyes full of hurt and disappointment. “I was going to say painful,” he replied, his words barely audible.
Realizing too late that the way he’d been dancing around the words had been to spare his feelings as much as hers, she blushed and bowed her head. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, feeling about an inch tall. “I didn’t mean…”
“But you’re right,” he went on suddenly, his tone brisk, telling her in no uncertain terms that the matter was dropped. “Fuller accounts of the slayers’ final battles would be a great deal more helpful.” Absently, he began to straighten the Watcher journals into neat stacks. “There’s simply no one left to tell the tales.”
Then he paused, his hands stilling mid-straighten.
Buffy just blinked at him. “Giles, you have thinking face. What…”
“Someone left to tell the tale.”
She huffed and reached carefully for another volume. “Yes, we’ve already discussed that. Someone to tell the tale, but mostly the lack thereof… of both the someone and the telling.”
“Maybe there is.” Slowly, Giles pulled off his glasses, staring at her all the while. “Just… not from the Slayer’s side.”
“What do you…” She trailed off as his words registered. Not from the Slayer’s side… meant from the other side.
The one who had killed her.
In that instant of clarity, she knew just what he was talking about. And he knew she knew, from the way his eyes bored into her. Quickly, she dropped her gaze to the book she’d picked up, her fingers tracing the imprint on the cover.
She just didn’t want to admit knowing what her Watcher meant, because admitting it made a sharp pain dig into her gut that was somehow unconnected with the wound she already had.
She didn’t want to think about it, though she knew she shouldn’t forget it. But the expression that Giles wore made her have to think about it – about what Spike’s claim to fame was.
Slayer of Slayers.
She never forgot he was a vampire – the tinglies on the back of her neck wouldn’t let her – but somehow she had forgotten his blood-soaked past. I kept telling myself that the chip made him safe, she thought, but it really didn’t. I wanted him to be harmless. I wanted him to be safe, because I’ve enjoyed knowing Spike-with-chip… well, mostly. But if he got it out tomorrow, he’d be tearing out throats before I could blink…
When she at last looked up again, Giles was still studying her, disquieted by her lengthy silence. “Buffy…”
She forced a smile, and didn’t care that it trembled a little as she said what he expected her to say. “Well. Guess I’d better go beat some info out of Spike.”
The Slayer never bothered to knock. She just sent his door flying in, until one of these days, Spike feared it would fall right off the heavy hinges.
Rather, she used to. She still didn’t knock, but at least he wasn’t worrying about repairing the door anymore. He was still getting used to this version of the Slayer that wasn’t a cast-iron bitch, even though it had already been a couple of weeks since she last punched him in the nose.
It was quite a surprise to find that she could be something other than a shrew to him. There had been times where, if he hadn’t heard her heartbeat, he would have sworn she’d gotten a touch of vampirism. Only Darla had been worse, in his experience, and that was really saying something.
But now she was here in his crypt without the slam-banging of doors or the shoving of his face into the wall. It’s a vast improvement.
He grinned at her and rose from his chair as she stepped in. “Slayer! It’s not our night for patrol, but lucky for you I wasn’t…”
Then the scent of her blood hit his nose and he stopped short, his hand just touching his coat. He stared at her over his shoulder in shock.
“Spike…” She sounded weary.
He straightened and stalked toward her, nostrils flaring as he drew in the smell. “You hurt, Slayer?” he demanded, raking his eyes up and down her body. “Something get a piece of you?” He reached out, unable to stop himself, wanting only to see for himself how badly she was injured.
“Don’t touch me!” Before he even knew what happened, her face hardened and she stepped backwards, slapping his hands away from her with rather more force than was necessary. Once she’d put some distance between them again, she stopped, looking down at the dusty floor. “It’s nothing,” she muttered curtly. “Really.”
He frowned at her in confusion and the first stirrings of anger. So we’re back to being the Bitch Queen again, he thought, and clenched his jaw. Lovely. “Fine,” he snapped. “It’s nothing. Go out and act like bait for some other vamp, then.” He turned his back on her and headed for the fridge. The aroma of Slayer blood taunted him, made him hunger for it, and he really needed to give himself something else to think about. Congealed pig’s blood was better than nothing.
He knew very well that she hadn’t left – he could still hear her heartbeat, never mind the quiet sigh. “I… it hurts, and the pain makes me cranky.”
He set the now-empty container down and ran his finger around the inside rim, chasing down any drops that had escaped him. “And?”
He glared at her over his shoulder. “Don’t even try to give me that, Slayer. You don’t want to be here – I can practically smell it.” He turned around and leaned against the narrow stone shelf that pretended to be his kitchen. “Yet here you are. So either spill why or leave me the hell alone.”
She was silent, watching him as he watched her, her face solemn and a bit pale. Just as he was about to reiterate his demand for her to get the hell out, she sighed once more and sank into his ratty chair, dropping his gaze as she did. “Yeah. Giles… he reminded me of something I had forgotten, and… it’s something that I shouldn’t have.”
He tensed at her mention of the Watcher, at the soft, sad sound of her voice. As nearly pleasant as she had been the past few weeks, he couldn’t say he was overjoyed at whatever the Watcher had said, not if it did this to her. “And what was that?”
This time, when the Slayer met his eyes, her expression was distant, guarded. “That you killed two Slayers.”
He froze. Damn the bloody Watcher. Then the rest of what she had said struck him, adding another bit to the puzzle. Though why did the Slayer forget that? Should be tops in her mind… Seeing that she was still looking at him, he nodded. “I did,” he agreed cautiously, hoping that he wasn’t about to get a stake for past crimes.
Her face was emotionless. “Tell me how.”
Spike considered her, sitting stiffly in his chair, her face stony and cold, as her words ran though his head. Then it clicked and he gave a short bark of humorless laughter. “That’s rich! Whatever it was that took a bite of you did it bad enough to get old Rupes in a tizzy. So what does he do? Sends his precious Slayer to William the Bloody himself, for a first-hand account of his deeds. That’s not ‘nothing’, pet. It’s a bloody ironic laugh riot.”
Before she could say anything, he grabbed his coat and strode to the door, shrugging into the leather as he went. He paused at the door, patting his pockets, searching for his fags and lighter. “I don’t know what you’re expecting,” he bit out. “We fought, I won, the end. You wanna hear all the bloody details, fine, but I’m not gonna tell it here.” He swept from the crypt as if he didn’t care if she followed him or not.
Outside, he lit up and resisted the urge to slump against the crypt wall. Bloody hell, I was just starting to get used to the nice Slayer. She’s almost fun to be around, even if I can’t fight her.
He heard the scuffle of her footsteps, and squared his shoulders. “Shut the door, too, Slayer. Don’t want to come back to find I’ve been invaded.” He knew acting like a prime arse was a sure way to fire her up, but he couldn’t seem to stop.
She started it anyway… being nice, and then back to nasty.
He refused to look at her the entire walk to the Bronze, just as he refused to think about why her sudden reversion bothered him so.
Buffy knew it was her fault. Spike had been almost glad to see her. Until he’d figured out she was hurt, that is, and then he’d been… upset. But then she’d gone all psycho-chick on him, pushing away his concern because she was so completely torn, and that’s why he was acting like such a jerk now. And because she knew it was her fault, she tried not to respond to his goading, though that went totally against her nature.
And he’s making it very difficult, she thought accusingly. Only a moment later, guilt swept over her. Well, you’re the one who demanded his help like it was owed to you. If he wants a beer and some wings… She turned in her seat, trying to catch one of the roving servers’ eyes, and her forgotten wound reminded her of its presence with a sharp, hot pain. She couldn’t help it; she winced and lowered one hand to her side, grimacing.
“Yeah, that’s some bit of nothing.” Spike was studying her intently over his beer glass. The words were quietly mocking, but in his eyes, she thought she saw a hint of the same concern she’d seen earlier at his crypt.
All right, she admitted grudgingly. I’d like to see it, even if it’s not really there. She decided to tell him what had happened, hoping to get back some of the easiness that had started to grow between them before tonight. “Last night, on patrol… it was a vamp. He wasn’t much of a fighter, and he was all alone, but somehow, he managed to stick me.”
“Scared you, did it?” His voice was flat, impassive as he took a pull of his beer.
Maybe he doesn’t care. Hoping that none of the pain that welled up at the thought of his indifference was visible, she nodded once in assent. “A little, yeah.”
“A little.” He snorted. “Enough so you’re here in the shadows, digging up the past with a creature you loathe.”
Buffy frowned at his words and studied him. He just stared back at her, defiance in every line of his face. Slowly, she shook her head. “I don’t loathe you, Spike,” she said, her tone just loud enough to carry across the table, and melted a little as his attitude dissipated into shock. “But I’m gonna be honest with you – I find it hard to be around you right now.” Hurt flashed through his eyes, but she didn’t look away. “I had forgotten… that you killed two Slayers, and to be reminded now, when I… it threw me for a loop. In my head, you’d gone from Spike-the-killer to Spike-the-annoying-but-chipped to Spike-my-sometimes-patrolling-partner… who’s fun to be around. And it’s hard to think of you as Spike-the-killer again.” She gave a deprecating shrug and dropped her eyes to the diet soda effervescing in her glass. “It’s not what you want to hear, but I liked not thinking about you as Spike-the-killer.” She risked a glance at him through her lashes.
Wow. I’ve really got a knack for making him all with the stunned, don’t I? As it had only a few weeks ago, surprise painted his features, and as he stared at her, she could see the understanding dawn in his eyes.
When she raised her head, he quickly turned back to his beer, draining what little remained in the glass. “I didn’t know, Slayer,” he said, twirling the empty glass in his nimble fingers. “I…”
“Nah, it’s okay,” she said, forestalling the apology she was sure was coming. “Totally. But… I’d still appreciate your help, if you’re willing to give it.” She didn’t know how she got the words out; some part of her was completely embarrassed by asking for help from anyone, much less a vampire. Some other part of her, however, was sure that asking for help when needed was a good thing.
Maybe I don’t always have to be the strong one…?
When Spike nodded, she gave him a hesitant smile. She hadn’t fixed what she’d begun to break while at his crypt, but she’d made a start.
This time, there was no little voice in her head asking her why she wanted to be all friendly with Spike. And she was glad for the silence.
He wasn’t Angelus, but Spike knew how to cause pain. He could have told the Slayer what she thought she wanted to know in a way that would have hurt her, could have taken advantage of her fledgling trust and betrayed it. But he wasn’t Angelus, and he couldn’t.
Instead, he shocked himself by telling it to her straight. Not all of his past – she had no need to know about bad poetry and heartbreaks long forgotten. He could have embellished, could have recalled how he savored rich blood as it flowed so sweetly down his throat, how he relished the feel of a neck snapping under his fingers. He could have told her a tissue of lies from start to finish. He could have told her things that would have killed her if she believed them.
But he didn’t. And he was amazed to discover that he no longer wanted her dead.
When the bloody hell did that happen?
He couldn’t even muster up much indignation about it. She was one of the few – human or demon – who was willing to talk with him at all, and though he was too proud to admit it, he craved company.
“I don’t know what you’re expecting,” he warned her, deliberately repeating his earlier words. “It’s not a pattern you can map out and memorize, and say, ‘Oh, Spike did this, so if I do that, I’ll be fine.’ It’s… it’s like a dance, yeah, but it’s one where the steps change every time.”
Through it all – talking, drinking, playing pool – he told her the truth and hoped she would see what he was doing.
He didn’t want to bring up the seemingly traditional Slayer death wish, but he had always figured it was part of why he’d won. Because they wanted to know what it was like… where it would take them.
“They fought to the end… but they didn’t fight any further. They didn’t dig down deep and find out if they had just that little bit more, just enough to make sure it was me, instead of them. They gave up, love.” Then he cocked his head to one side and watched her for a moment before saying, “Don’t think you’re gonna do that.” He sank the last two balls before gathering up the courage to look at her again.
The Slayer was leaning on her pool cue, lost in thought, her brows puckered. He stopped breathing in something akin to fear as she mulled over everything he’d said.
Then her face cleared and she smiled – not her bright beaming one, but the little half smile she’d been giving him all night. “Thank you,” she said softly, and he just nodded, not wanting to say anything that would break the still-fragile peace they’d rebuilt tonight.
She retreated to their table and pulled something out of the pocket of her jacket, and for an instant, he gave in to the fear that the evening would end with his dusty demise after all, accompanied by an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
But when she returned to where he stood, seemingly rooted to the floor, he saw it was a wad of money, and she offered it to him. “Giles… he gave me this to bribe you with,” she said, and her cheeks were flushed. “But I wanted… I didn’t want to bribe you… but I can’t keep it, either, and… and you earned it.”
If that came from Giles, I’ll give up drinking, he thought, and was a bit startled by the edge of anger in it. He didn’t even glance at the cash once he’d realized what it was and gently pushed her offering hand away. “Keep it, pet,” he said, “or maybe drop it in your college fund.”
She frowned. “But…”
“Buffy.” He pressed her hand back against her chest, and let go. “I didn’t do it for money.”
Her cheeks reddened again, and she looked down at the floor, nodding. “I know… I just…”
He wondered at the sudden increase in her heart rate, but said nothing. Instead, he pulled on his coat. “We’ll get you home, and you can get a good night’s rest. That Slayer healing will kick in then. Sound good?” He handed over her jacket and gave her an expectant look.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah.”
They walked in silence. They had almost reached her house when, her voice barely carrying in the still night air, Buffy said, “I got it, you know.”
“Got what, love?”
“What you were telling me in the Bronze… even though you never actually came out and said it.” She rolled her eyes at him, then her grin flickered away. “It wasn’t just a hate thing. It was a fighter’s thing, a… a warrior’s thing. Not just killing for killing’s sake, but… like a duel, to see who was better.”
He sighed in relief. “Yeah. Knew you would, but it’s nice to hear.”
Their silence became companionable once more.
“Did Angel really make you hide like that?”
He opened his eyes wide and adopted his most innocent look. “God’s honest truth, Slayer! Do you think I was trying to make Peaches look bad?”
She grinned at him again, a white flash in the darkness. “Every chance you get.”
His smirk was filled with self-satisfaction.
She hadn’t been in the house ten minutes and she needed to be gone again.
But Buffy only went as far as the back porch. Outside, with no one to watch her, she could lose it – could drop all the façades of strength and just be a girl scared to death of the way her life seemed to be spiraling out of control.
The Key-ness of Dawn, and the need to protect her, her mother’s suddenly very real illness – God, she’s going into the hospital! – school and Riley and Spike, not to mention everyday life and slayage… it was just too much.
Her wound flared when she bent over to rest her head on her knees, but she didn’t care. That little bit of additional pain was enough to send her over the edge and she started crying.
I can’t deal anymore, I just can’t… God, please let my mom be okay, please, please…
Her grief so consumed her she never knew anyone else was even around. Only when a familiar deep voice said “Slayer?” did she notice she was no longer alone. Spike stood just in front of her, frowning, his battleaxe slung over his shoulder.
She couldn’t say anything; her shoulders still shook with sobs she couldn’t control. She just looked up at him, tears trickling down her face in a never-ending stream, and just hoped that he could make the cold and pain go away.
“You all right, pet?” The depth of concern in his voice warmed her a little, and she didn’t feel so desperately alone, even as she shook her head.
He lowered the axe, still frowning. “Is there anything I can do?”
She shook her head again, but the warmth of his caring – so very clear now – gave her a sense of relief, that he would be able to help her, somehow. Spike cares. The thought made a fresh river of tears flow.
He rested the axe against the railing and sat down next to her on the stairs. He stretched one arm behind her… and before she knew what he intended, what she did took her by surprise. She leaned into his shoulder, buried her face against leather and cried some more.
He stiffened, and she sensed rather than felt his hand hovering over her back. No, please, she thought in weak protest, but what she protested, she wasn’t sure. Before she could pull away and apologize and drown in her own embarrassment, his hand settled between her shoulder blades, drawing her even closer. She sobbed again as release overwhelmed her.
“Shh, love. It’s all right, just let it out.” His voice was a soft, soothing rumble, and his hand skated up her back to stroke her hair. “Let it all out.”
Some time later, after she had shuddered and hiccupped her way to a stop, she realized he still had his arm around her, fingers gently brushing her hair, her shoulder. He was still murmuring words meant to calm her.
She sniffled, and inhaled salt and leather and Spike, and even the scent of him was comforting.
It was like a light bulb flicked on in her brain. I could fall in love with him so easily.
Buffy closed her eyes, let her forehead touch the side of his neck, and felt his arm tighten around her.
She let out a breath, and refused to let herself think that maybe she already had.
Comments and criticism gratefully accpeted.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/209992.html